No Pai, No Gain
by Dave Bresci
was late May, and I was traveling through Thailand,
land of stray dogs and fearless chickens. While roaming
across the northern part of the country, I found myself
in a village named Pai (pronounced pie). I’d met a
few people in Chiang Mai who recommended that I visit
Pai, though they couldn’t exactly explain why. They
just said that I’d like it.
Pai is a slow-moving, remote village
full of hippies, granolas, and wannabe hippies and
granolas. It's a place where people go for a couple
of days and end up staying a few months. You can’t
exactly figure out what it is you did all day, yet
you feel satisfied nonetheless. This English guy named
David who was staying at my guesthouse had been in
Pai for five months, working as a part-time ambulance
driver and playing guitar at the local bar. Other
than that, I’m not sure quite what he did to occupy
his time. I think he took a lot of naps.
The guesthouse where I lodged lay
along the Pai River. I had a private bungalow on the
water, with a view reminiscent of Coppola’s depiction
of the Nung River, minus the heads on pikes.
My first night in town, Rick, the
owner of the guesthouse, invited me out to the courtyard
to hang out with him and a few of his friends. A couple
of them were playing guitar and singing Thai songs,
which, while incomprehensible, offered a welcome dose
of Thai culture.
I was surrounded by drunken Thais
singing Eagles tunes at the top of their lungs, which
was entertaining for me, but probably not for the
other guests who were trying to sleep less than 20
My Pai adventure came courtesy of
Rick's brother-in-law, Thip, who gives tours of northwestern
Thailand on off-road motorcycles. Between Thai jams
and shots of Sam Song whiskey, he told me that I could
take a two-day trip with him through the forest and
mountains up along the Myanmar border.
It seemed like a good idea at the
time. I have a motorcycle back home. I’ve been riding
for a couple of years. How hard can it be? I was thinking,
you know, dirt roads, the occasional puddle, maybe
a rock here and there.
The first sign, or omen, if you
will, came the morning we were leaving. A monsoon
appeared from nowhere, covering everything in three
inches of water. It stopped raining after about an
hour and Thip said "No problem." This was
to be a familiar refrain from my guide.
Within minutes, we were on our way.
Activities in Thailand don't let themselves get bogged
down by pesky things like liability forms, insurance,
or any sort of basic safety precautions. I handed
over the cash, Thip handed over the bike, and eventually
- at my insistence - a helmet.
Within the first, five minutes,
I was covered in a film of mud and sweat. I came to
realize that off-road means 45-degree inclined dirt
roads, and sharp rocks, and running streams, and sharp
rocks, and two-foot deep troughs of mud, and sharp
rocks, and swampy rice fields, and more sharp rocks.
I’m sure there are situations that are more distressing
than riding a motorcycle with the rear tire constantly
sliding back and forth as it tries in vain to find
some traction, but they did not come readily to mind.
Thip was a great guide for the three
seconds was able to keep him in my field of vision.
He zipped around corners, up hills, and around banks
so fast that it was almost impossible to follow him.
Every once in a while he’d stop and wait for me, at
which point I’d ask him to slow down. “No problem,”
he’d say. “Go faster.” Then he was gone.
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